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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

"The ADF Air Combat Capability- On the Record"

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   5th November, 2007

  by Dr Carlo Kopp, Peter Goon, et al

Contacts: Peter Goon
Dr Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

On the 29th October, 2007, Defence posted an article entitled “THE ADF AIR COMBAT CAPABILITY” intended to challenge the analysis provided in the ABC 4 Corners feature “Flying Blind”. Defence asserted  “In response to the Four Corners story on 29 October 2007, the ADF corrects the record on a number of issues raised during the program.”

As APA will demonstrate in this NOTAM,  Defence have displayed yet again confusion  and poor understanding  of many important issues in the force structure planning area, and in the prior history of these RAAF programs. In addition to critically  analysing Defence statements, APA will also score Defence's performance  on this document in numbers of factual errors, logical fallacies, and  attempts to  influence the manner in which the reader interprets a statement.

F/A-18E Super Hornet

Defence Assertion and APA Response Score

In keeping with the 2000 Defence White Paper [Click for more ...], the ADF is committed to maintaining an edge in regional air combat capability.


Maintaining an edge in regional air combat capability requires the maintenance and acquisition of combat aircraft, weapons and systems which have a decisive edge over regional capabilities. Neither the Super Hornet nor the Joint Strike Fighter provide an edge over late production Sukhoi Flanker variants, or  late production S-300PMU/S-400 series Surface Air Missile systems, all of which are proliferating rapidly in Asia.

As long as both the Government and Defence remain committed to the Super Hornet and Joint Strike Fighter, they cannot be committed to maintaining an edge in regional air combat capability.  They are exposing us, Australia and future generations of Australians to significant risk.

The Super Hornet is the best aircraft to meet Australia’s bridging air combat requirements as we prepare for a JSF-based future, subject to government decision. 1

As there is no need for premature retirement of the F-111, there is no need for a “bridging air combat requirement” and thus the Super Hornet. Considering the fighter types currently in production, the F-22A Raptor presents a far better choice in all key roles, compared to the Super Hornet.

The claim of a “JSF-based future” presupposes that the next government will agree to purchase the JSF despite its unsuitability for our strategic needs.

The Super Hornet is a battle-proven, multi-role aircraft that is clearly the only capable, available system which meets Defence’s requirements in the next 8-10 years. 3

To date the Super Hornet has not been flown in combat against a modern Integrated Air Defence System (IADS), or against modern “double digit” Surface to Air Missile systems, or later generation Flanker fighters.  It has been flown only in very low threat environments against disorganised legacy technology Surface-to-Air threats,  and used to bomb low threat conventional targets, insurgents and terrorists. The most prominent “combat experience” the Super Hornet has is against an enemy who buried their air force under sand dunes.

The Super Hornet cannot be regarded to be “multirole” in the classical sense of the term, as it lacks the performance to be credible in air superiority and air defence roles, and it lacks the survivability to be credible in strike roles against well defended targets.

Australia's provable strategic needs “in the next 8-10 years” cannot be met by the Super Hornet, “Classic” Hornet or any other low performance aircraft in this class.  All are performance constrained to being sub-sonic machines with low supersonic dash capabilities when combat loaded.  The JSF will be in this very same class – its design specifications and the ubiquitous Cost As an Independent Variable (CAIV) have made it so.

The Super Hornet is the clear choice as a bridging air combat capability for three reasons:

  • First because of its excellent capability to meet Australia’s requirements;
  • Second because of its availability and supportability; and
  • Third because Air Force has the capacity to make this transition more easily than with any other aircraft.

  • First the Super Hornet cannot meet Australia's developing strategic needs due to its poor aerodynamic and stealth performance;
  • Second other fighter types including the F-22A Raptor could be acquired in the timeframe of interest but the Government and Defence have yet to formally ask; supportability of the Super Hornet will present issues since it shares little commonality with the RAAF's 'Classic' Hornets; 
  • Third the transition effort, given the different airframe and systems of the Super Hornet compared to the 'Classic' Hornet, will be as much if not more than a new aircraft type (e.g. F-22A Raptor) with considerably greater risk of maintenance, configuration control and logistical errors and mistakes; and
  • Fourth to overcome the latter, the Defence bureaucrats’ solution is to ‘de-risk the program’ by handing all these activities plus engineering control of sovereign assets into the hands of non-Australians in overseas companies.  The reason for this ‘de-risking’ is a lack of confidence in our own abilities – “the great Australian cultural cringe” – which, in turn, will lead to loss of jobs and the further ‘de-skilling’ of Defence, itself, and, more significantly, Australian Industry.

The Super Hornet is in service with the United States Navy through to 2030 and will continue to be upgraded, keeping it relevant through until 2020.

US strategists are already deeply concerned about the viability of the Super Hornet in the 'Sukhoi-rich' Asia-Pacific region over the coming decade. Its limitations cannot be fixed by upgrades as they are inherent in the shaping and airframe design of the aircraft.

It will ensure our air combat capability edge is maintained through the transition to F-35 over the next decade. 1

The aerodynamic and stealth performance limitations of both the Super Hornet and the F-35 will deny an ‘air combat capability edge’ should either of these types enter RAAF service.

The Block II Super Hornet will be on the ground in Australia in a little over two years.


Whether the aircraft is delivered or not in this timeframe, full operational capability will not be achieved in anything approaching that timeframe.

The Super Hornet acquisition will allow us to retire the F-111 at a time of our choosing.


The Defence bureaucracy decided to prematurely retire the F-111 in 2003, with an intended retirement date of 2010. The ‘time of our choosing’ was a flawed decision taken four years ago by those in the ranks of the senior Defence bureaucrats and ministerial advisers in Canberra, then entrusted to guard the nation’s air combat capability edge, an edge that had been protected and honed since the end of the Korean War.  The repercussions of that ‘imposed’ edict is now readily apparent for those who have the capacity to put bias to one side and view the issues dispassionately and objectively.

Regarding claims the Super Hornet is not sufficiently stealthy
The Super Hornet is a low-observable (LO) aircraft, orders of magnitude more 'stealthy' than F-111 or Su-30s.


This claim ignores the reality that the Super Hornet must carry external fuel tanks and weapons to be useful in combat. The radar signature of these external stores largely nullifies any signature reduction achieved in the Super Hornet by the use of the trapezoidal inlets, sculpted inlet tunnels, and radar bay shroud.

The Russian Irbis E radar carried by late model Flankers will detect a 1 square metre target at 160 NMI (~300 km), yet the centimetric band radar signature of even a single external store such as a missile rail or fuel tank is of that order of magnitude.

The claim that the Super Hornet is “orders of magnitude more ‘stealthy’ than F-111 or Su-30s.” suggests the Super Hornet has a radar cross section of the order of 0.1 square metres or better, a courageous claim given the shaping design limitations of the Super Hornet.

Source: Iris Independent Research

The F-35 JSF is a Very Low Observable (VLO) aircraft and true 5th generation. 2

The non exportable US only F-35 JSF variant may be able to achieve true Very Low Observable (VLO) performance only in a narrow sector around its nose, but the aircraft cannot be termed low observable in the tail and beam sectors by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore the JSF is at best a Low-Observable (LO) aircraft with single sector Very Low Observable (VLO) performance. Export models are expected to have inferior stealth performance compared to the non exportable US only F-35 JSF variants.

A ‘true 5th generation’ fighter will incorporate supersonic cruise, high agility, all aspect stealth and integrated avionics. The JSF has only one of these attributes (integrated avionics) and part of another (all aspect stealth), therefore it cannot be a ‘true 5th generation’  fighter like the F-22A Raptor or the Russian PAK-FA (T-50) when it comes into service circa 2015.

Regarding Super Hornet not being 5th generation
The ADF has never said that the Super Hornet is '5th generation' - a term referring to the combination of stealth and sensor integration.

The only two true 5th generation aircraft are F-22 Raptor and the F-35 JSF.



No, but Boeing St Louis does make the claim that “the Super Hornet really is a fifth generation air plane” in their promotional video, an extract of which was shown on the 4 Corners Program.

It remains to be determined exactly where the Minister found the information upon which he made his “no brainer decision”, and exactly where senior Defence officials found their information on the Super Hornet aircraft.

The F-35 JSF cannot be a ‘true 5th generation’ fighter as it will never have supersonic cruise, high agility, and all aspect stealth capabilities.

Super Hornet vs Su-30 series aircraft
If a Super Hornet was to meet a Su-30 in the coming 8 years, ADF pilots would want to be in the F-18F cockpit every time. Any pilot who has flown the new Block II F-18F with AESA radar would feel the same way.


Success in combat is determined by advantages in capability, numbers and the ability to exploit these advantages operationally. The feelings of pilots have much less impact, as proven repeatedly in air wars since 1914.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham observed in 1942, days before many brave young RAAF pilots were killed in combat with superior Japanese A6M2 Zeroes, that “[Brewster] Buffaloes are quite enough for Malaya, and that the A6M2 Zero was “on a par with our Buffalo ...”.

The Super Hornet is a true multi-role aircraft that spans the air combat spectrum, including maritime strike, which is so vital for Australia. 2

The performance limitations of the Super Hornet render the first claim erroneous.

While the Super Hornet has the capability to carry maritime strike weapons like the subsonic Harpoon, its range performance is inadequate for this role without significant aerial refuelling support, unlike the F-111.

Su-30 variants arriving in the region are much superior in the maritime role, with better range/payload performance than the Super Hornet, and the ability to carry far more potent anti-shipping missiles like the supersonic Yakhont and Moskit (Sunburn).

The Block II airframe is redesigned for signature reduction and the aircraft is built around the most advanced radar in any non-fifth generation aircraft in the world.


While the Super Hornet airframe does have some signature reduction measures, as noted previously, the signature of external weapons and fuel tanks will be enough to render the aircraft highly vulnerable to long range engagement using advanced Russian radars and missiles.

While the APG-79 radar in the Block II Super Hornet  does use newer transmitter and packaging technology than the Russian Irbis E radar in the Su-35BM/Su-35-1 [NB zipped 20 MB PDF], it still uses similar receiver and processor technology.

More importantly, it has only one half the antenna size and less peak power compared to the Russian radar. As a result the Russian Irbis E radar will outrange the APG-79 in the Block II Super Hornet.

Modern lethal weapons render any aircraft performance measure irrelevant if it does not enable first shot. First shot is achieved long range through:

  • modern networking;
  • survivability – (through signature reduction and integrated electronic counter-measures that deny opponents the ability to shoot);
  • advanced radars to cue weapons early; and
  • lethal missiles – (with long range and protection against countermeasures).


In most realistic scenarios, the late model Sukhoi Flanker will achieve a long range first shot capability against the Super Hornet, through:
Moreover, aircraft aerodynamic performance measures are not irrelevant if these allow a fighter to rapidly escape from an opponent's missile engagement envelope. The poor supersonic performance of the Super Hornet denies it such opportunities.

In its air superiority roles, the F/A-18F possesses all these attributes and will test any modern air defence system. 1

The late variants of the Sukhoi Flanker also possess all these attributes, but are also much more agile and much faster than the Super Hornet, giving the advantage in combat to the Sukhoi.

Moreover, these attributes will have little bearing on the ability of the Super Hornet to survive in “any modern air defence system”, where the regional benchmark are the S-300PMU-2/S-400 and S-300VM long range Surface to Air Missile systems. US strategists regard only the F-22A Raptor and B-2A Spirit to be capable of surviving encounters with these Russian air defence weapons.

Air combat capability is about far more than the aircraft specifications. Reliable, sustainable logistics support, the best training and a full air combat system of command and control is required to match modern threats.


More importantly, and unfortunately, turnkey support provided by Russian contractors, including aircrew and groundcrew, allow regional Flanker operators to also achieve “reliable, sustainable logistics support, the best training and a full air combat system of command and control”.

No other aircraft can meet this requirement in the bridging timeframe better than F-18F Super Hornet. 1

Australia's strategic needs could be met far better in this timeframe by the F-22A Raptor.

Was DSTO’s F-111 wing testing flawed?
There were no errors in the set-up of DSTO’s F-111C wing fatigue test. The wing fatigue test was developed to simulate the loads on the aircraft in-flight.

There were a number of significant errors in the set-up of DSTO’s F-111C wing fatigue test.  Primarily, these were due to the re-direction, to other non-F-111 related projects, of the funds that had been appropriated by Government in 1998 to the F-111 Sole Operator Programme, as recommended by the RAAF F-111 Support Study of 1996. The resulting significant shortfall in funding led to serious shortcomings in the test set up as well as the testing itself including, inter alia, inadequate pre-test inspection of the test wing; inadequate instrumentation for monitoring the whole of the wing during testing; a test rig that introduced non-representative loads into the wing; and, insufficient resources to adequately monitor and analyse the whole wing structure during testing to ensure any defects that developed during testing were detected as early as possible.

Basically, the DSTO had barely sufficient funding to focus on the inner wing area (the wing root, including the Wing Pivot Fitting) let alone the whole of the wing, including the outer wing panels where the “surprise, catastrophic failure” was to occur.

A simple comparison between this test programme and the approach, methodologies and test techniques used on the F-A-18 International Follow-On Structural Test (IFOST) Programme done with the Canadians highlights the deficiencies that led to the “surprise, catastrophic failure” experienced on the first wing test article in the DSTO F-111C Wing Fatigue Test Programme.

The F-111C wing fatigue test was initiated by Air Force and conducted by DSTO to manage and address fatigue cracking problems identified in the mid-1990s. 1

The F-111C wing fatigue test was initiated by the engineering experts in Air Force and conducted by the experts in the DSTO who were, unfortunately, subsequently underfunded for doing the work by the non-experts in Air Force – those whom the Chief of the Air Force and Chief Defence Scientist referred to in evidence to the Parliamentary Committee inquiring into air superiority as those who “don’t know what they don’t know”.

Claiming “to manage and address fatigue cracking problems identified in the mid-1990s” amounts to spin, and is indicative of the level of deskilling that has occurred in Defence, as much as the dominance in the belief of ‘form over substance’ at the senior levels in both Defence and Government.

Such testing is standard practice in the engineering management of high performance machines like the F-111.  Those who did the F-111 Support Study understood this fact back in 1996, as the extract below from the September 1996 Addendum to that study acknowledges.  This testing was meant to be routine and part of the overall risk management efforts which, if done properly, would see the aircraft remaining operational out to 2020 and, if necessary, beyond.

The Wing Fatigue test article failed unexpectedly during testing. All F-111C wings were subsequently replaced with later model wings which passed the wing fatigue test.

To have a Wing Fatigue test article fail “unexpectedly” during testing was unheard of in the recent annals of aircraft life extension fatigue testing, until this “surprise, catastrophic failure”.  To have such a failure in such testing shows this first test was non-representative, and thus flawed.

Such testing is all about loading the full scale test article – in this case an F-111C wing – with representative flight loads and then, through monitoring and regular inspections, detecting any defect that may develop and doing so as early as possible. 

The process, as was applied on the IFOST and on all other such testing known to APA, is then to analyse the defect, develop an ‘in the field’ inspection and repair which are then sent to the fleet to be applied in the normal course of maintenance of the aircraft.  In the meantime, the test article is repaired and testing continued until, at such time when the aims of the testing have been achieved or this overall process reaches the limit of economic sustainability (whichever comes first), no further repairs are done and the test article is allowed (and predictably so) to catastrophically fail.  The test article is then full inspected and analysed.

The first test wing was an ex-RAAF wing that had seen 5,418 hours in service.  The defect that led to this “surprise catastrophic failure’ of the first test wing was there on day one of the test and remained undetected throughout the following 8,089 hours of testing.  Over that time, it developed and grew, undetected, into a crack of the critical size necessary for failure of the structure.  There were other defects in this wing that similarly developed and grew, undetected, over the 8,089 hours of testing but had not reached critical size before this “surprise, catastrophic failure”.

As a result of this “surprise, catastrophic failure”, the engineering experts in the RAAF, the DSTO and, importantly, Industry worked collegiately and devised automated ‘safety by inspection’ procedures and processes, repair techniques, and an F-111 Wing Re-furbishment/Repair Line at RAAF Base Amberley through which the F-111 wings, both the original wing sets purchased as spares well before the “surprise, catastrophic failure” and those ‘F’ and ‘D’ Model additional wing sets purchased following the test failure, have been processed. 
To say “All F-111C wings were subsequently replaced with later model wings which passed the wing fatigue test” is simply untrue and reflects an incorrect understanding of what has actually been achieved. In fact, the F-111s were returned to service with ‘F’ and ‘D’ Model wings, all of which have now been inspected for defects in the the areas of interest, including those found to have gone undetected during the first failed test. 

When the APA Team last checked, following the retirement out of service of the last F-111G aircraft, no cracks had been found in any of the areas on the wing where cracks had been allowed to develop and grow either during the first failed test or the recent successfully progressing second wing fatigue test, prior to that test being shut down. All F-111C aircraft were flying with the later, better production quality ‘F’ and ‘D’ Model wings processed through the F-111 Wing Re-furbishment/Repair Line. However, since it is so easy to change the wings on the F-111 and the RAAF now have so many spare wings, this may not be the case today, assuming the RAAF are mitigating risk by processing the F-111 wings through the Wing Re-furbishment/Repair Line.
As for “...later model wings which passed the wing fatigue test”, this statement is, simply, nonsense. 
There has been one additional wing fatigue test by the DSTO on a single wing.  This test had surpassed the predicted life of the previous failed wing test – “….the total equivalent flight hours at failure was set at 18,918 hours” – by a significant degree and was exceeding expectations when, following the Minister’s announcement that he was buying Super Hornets because the decision “was a no brainer” and “we are hornet country”, the test program was shut down.

Defence evaluation of various capability options:
It is a normal part of prudent military planning to develop fallback options for Government consideration.

At face value, this statement could almost be true though, when assessed against the norms of complex project management standards and standard risk management let alone the requirements of the Financial Management and Administration Act (FMA Act), the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (CPG), the Defence Procurement Policy Manual (DPPM), and the Defence Capability Life Cycle Management Guide (DCLCMG) that were applicable at the time of the JSF decision, the term “a normal part of prudent military planning” should be changed to “an essential and mandatory part….”. 

One would be hard pressed to say that the often used term of “...keeping a watching brief on other capabilities” satisfies the criteria of “a normal part…” let alone “an essential and mandatory part of prudent military planning”.

The bridging capability option leveraged off several years of on-going analysis through Air 6000.


The data and the facts on the public record show that if any such analysis were done, which might support the decision for Australia to acquire the Super Hornet, then it was and still is, at best, less than objective, if not very seriously flawed.

Preliminary DSTO studies were carried out on both the technical risk and operational analysis of Block II Super Hornet as a bridging air combat capability prior to Government decision.


The data and the facts, given the documented history of events, when considered against the statements made by Defence prior to the announcement of the Government decision, and when compared with the public assertions of the Minister for Defence, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, in announcing his decision, do not support this claim.

The F/A-18F Block II Super Hornet is clearly the most capable aircraft across all air combat roles that Air Force have the capacity to introduce in the bridging timeframe. 1

That Air Force capacity should be a principal determinant for a less than capable aircraft to be acquired to fill Australia’s air combat needs is not supported by historical fact or the experiences of those who have been involved in the introduction of completely new types of aircraft into Australian service, either in the military or civil sectors of Australian aviation.  Even a cursory look at the introduction of the C-130, Mirage, F-4E, F-111 and F/A-18A/B into Australian service shows this statement to be non-sequitur.

The question remains whether any professional with first hand experience in the introduction, at the level of engineering and logistical responsibility, of a new complex aircraft type (military or civilian) into service in Australia had any accountable input into the planning and any advice that led to this decision by the Minister.

The option of the F/A-18F Super Hornet builds on our understanding of the current F/A-18 fleet. This option is least risk to ensure that Australia’s capability edge is maintained at a time of major equipment renewal and change for Air Force 2


Given the unique airframe design, largely different avionics and very different engines in the Super Hornet, compared to Australia's legacy Hornet fleet, very little 'understanding of the current F/A-18 fleet' will be useful in operating the Super Hornet.

Introduction of the Super Hornet will introduce significant strategic risk as regional Sukhoi operators will appreciate its well known capability limitations.

The F-111 is a great strike aircraft, professionally operated and maintained by RAAF personnel.

APA concurs with the statement that the “F-111 is a great strike aircraft, professionally operated”. However, the Deeper Level Maintenance of the F-111 fleet is provided by members of the Australian Defence Aerospace Industry employed by or under contract with Boeing Australia Ltd or directly with Defence.

The F-111 has been the stalwart of Australia's air strike power for last 30 years but will not continue to meet Australia's strategic needs. 1

Australia's emerging strategic needs now include:
  • Long range strike against land targets
  • Long range maritime strike
  • Cruise missile defence
  • Long range interception of bomber and maritime aircraft
  • Persistent strike against battlefield targets.
  • Precision strike against deeply buried targets.
  • Full spectrum persistent electronic attack.
In all of these roles an F-111 with suitable technology insertion upgrades outperforms the Super Hornet decisively, and does so at a fraction of the cost, with much less or no demand for aerial refuelling support.

Moreover, neither the Super Hornet nor the JSF can lift deep bunker busting weapons such as the 5,000 lb class EGBU/GBU-28/B, as both aircraft are too small, whereas the F-111 is already cleared for these critically important weapons.

In the vital full spectrum electronic attack role, an EF-111A equipped with the ALQ-99 ICAP III suite is both more survivable, longer ranging and more persistent than any other alternative.

Australia aims to retire the F-111 at a time of our choosing, noting the F-111 was planned to retire well before Super Hornet was considered as a bridging capability.

The Boeing St Louis plan to sell Super Hornets to Australia (Project ARCHANGEL) has been in play since 1998.  In 2003, Defence was directed by the then Minister for Defence, the Hon Senator Robert Hill, to effectively ‘cease and desist’ from considering an interim fighter solution.

In 2004, the Chief of the Air Force (CAF) stated that the F-111 would not be retired until all major capability projects supporting the RAAF Air Combat Capability were completed and in service. These projects included the AEW&C aircraft, the New Air Refuel Tankers, the Hornet Upgrade (HUG) Program, and the Weapons Improvement Programs.

On page 147 of the Defence Annual Report (DAR) published at the end of calendar year 2004, the following statement may be found:

“The decision to retire the F111 aircraft around 2010 was announced during the year. To ensure the maintenance of strike capability, the Government announced that retirement of the F111 was dependent on the successful introduction into service of airborne early warning and control and A330 tanker aircraft, completion of the F/A18 upgrade, and the introduction of improved weapons and long-range stand-off weapons for P3 Orion and F/A18 Hornet aircraft.”

In 2005 and 2006, the Chief of Defence Force (CDF), the new CAF, the Deputy Chief of the Air Force (DCAF), the NACC Program Office and the Office of the Minister for Defence repeated this statement though without any reference to arming the P-3 Orion with long range stand-off weapons notable by its absence.

The F-111 would operate at increasing operational risk with emerging threats in the coming decade beyond 2010. It would also operate at increasing safety risk beyond 2010 with the ageing airframe issues highlighted by wing fatigue, well publicized fuel tank issues and wiring looms. 2

The operational risk incurred by an F-111 armed with planned cruise missiles such as the AGM-158 JASSM is very low due to the 150 nautical mile standoff range of this missile, and even greater range of the proposed JASSM-ER when carried.

In engagement scenarios involving Surface to Air Missile systems, the higher speed and much lower penetration altitude of the F-111 compared to the Super Hornet results in far fewer firing opportunities for a defending Surface to Air Missile system, especially if a stand-off weapon is carried by the F-111.

In engagement scenarios involving hostile fighter aircraft, the much higher speed and persistence of the F-111 compared to the Super Hornet result in fewer firing opportunities for hostile fighters. A Sukhoi Flanker cannot run down an F-111 in a tailchase engagement, but it can easily run down a Super Hornet (or JSF).

The supposed “ageing aircraft issues highlighted by wing fatigue” have already been addressed.

However, the dominant factor in the ‘age’ of an aircraft and ‘Aging Aircraft Programs’ is flying hours and related cycles of operation – not calendar years.  Unlike humans and other ‘biological beings’ from which people generally derive an understanding of ‘age’ and ‘aging’, properly maintained aircraft do not ‘age’ or develop ‘ageing aircraft issues’ when they are not flying.  After all, they are machines and are not made of living tissue that ‘ages’ with the passage of time.

As for the “well publicized fuel tank issues and wiring looms”, this event and the near loss of F-111 A8-112 and crew was a result of sound engineering advice being ignored by ‘those who don’t know what they don’t know’ about aviation, in particular the F-111, within Defence.

In 1999, the fuel tank wiring was identified as one of the high technical risks on the F-111 fleet by the incoming Deeper Level Maintenance contractor and members of the Test and Evaluation (T&E) community in Australia experienced with the F-111.  Various attempts were made in the intervening years by experts in both the RAAF and Industry to encourage Defence management to fund what was, ostensibly, an extremely cost effective, low risk replacement program with later technology fuel tank wiring looms.  This contemporary wiring loom technology had been specifically developed on the back of lessons learned from fuel tank explosions in other aircraft.

Defence management paid no heed to the advice of these experts.  In 2002, as the statement suggests, the wiring loom induced fuel tank explosion in A8-112 near Darwin became the “well publicized fuel tank issues and wiring looms” safety risk.

Footnote:  Defence management has only recently approved funding for replacing the F-111 fuel tank wiring as first recommended back in 1999, having finally accepted expert advice that the inspection program implemented post the explosion in the A8-112 F-1 fuel tank was fundamentally flawed.  These time consuming and quite expensive inspections could only infer that there were no defects in the wiring looms.  They could not ensure and assure there were none that could develop into a source for ignition, leading to another fuel tank explosion.

Problems in wiring looms that led to fuel tank explosions in other aircraft (a.k.a. above ‘lessons learned’ that led to development of the later fuel tank wiring technology) included well known issues with Kapton ® insulated wiring.  Wiring with this problem insulation has been fully replaced on the F-111.  However, the electrical looms in Australia’s F/A-18 Hornets are made up of wires with insulation of this problem type.

The F-111's effective range is increasingly reduced as it needs to avoid air and surface threats rather than having the ability to penetrate them as can a modern multi-role fighter such as the F-18F Block II Super Hornet.


The Super Hornet cannot credibly penetrate integrated air defences equipped with late variants of the Sukhoi Flanker and S-300PMU-2/S-400/S-300VM air defence missile systems; in the US force structure this role is reserved for the F-22A Raptor and B-2A Spirit as only these types are regarded to be sufficiently survivable.

The Super Hornet will have no choice than to employ “avoidance tactics” not unlike the F-111, but the lower speed, lower persistence and higher operating altitude of the Super Hornet will force far more cautious tactics than feasible with the F-111.

The F-111 needs a fighter escort with any air threat, is not networked and doesn't fit into Australia's networked Defence architecture for the coming decade. 3

The F-111 remains survivable against a wide range of air threats, especially those lacking the performance to easily gain missile firing opportunities. Escort is only required against air threats with high speed, high persistence and high power aperture radar systems, and only when the F-111 is not carrying a cruise missile warload.

Last year engineers at the RAAF Amberley depot performed prototype integration of a state of the art MIDS LVT network terminal into the F-111 avionic system, and did so on a small internal development budget.  The absence of network terminals in the F-111 is because the Defence bureaucracy refused to fund this low cost enhancement to capability.

The decision to join the JSF Program

Australia joined the JSF Program in October 2002 to obtain access to F-35 Air System information, as well as capability and industry outcomes, recognising that gaining these benefits did not commit Australia to acquire the JSF aircraft.


The decision to join the JSF Program was announced in June 2002.

In early 2001, while acting Secretary of Defence, the Undersecretary of Defence Materiel (USDM), had a meeting at the request and with the Head of the DMO Aerospace System Division (HASD) and his senior staff.  At this meeting, the USDM expressed his belief that, inter alia, Defence should ‘go straight for the JSF’ to replace the Hornets and the F-111s as soon as possible.

Over the intervening 14 months, the USDM and a select group of senior DMO staff travelled widely; lobbied the Offices of the Ministers for Defence and Industry; and, ‘recruited’ selected individuals in Defence, other government departments and Industry to the cause of convincing others in the Departments of Defence and Industry as well as other key government departments (e.g. Finance, Treasury and PM&C) that the Government should ‘decide’ to join the JSF Program.

Clearly, the Capability Staff and the DSTO had no knowledge of these activities nor the USDM’s intentions since they issued solicitations to Industry (e.g. AIR6000 Force Mix Option Market Survey etc) in the latter part of 2001. 

If these solicitations had been issued with knowledge of the USDM’s intentions, then those authorizing the issue of such solicitations would, inter alia, have been in breach of Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (CPG) and its overarching legislations, namely, the Financial Management and Administration Act (FMA Act).

The decision also recognised the clear benefits that a stealthy, multi-role, 5th generation JSF offered over the full range of contender aircraft based on Defence analysis undertaken on contenders to replace the air combat capability provided by the F-111 and F/A-18 aircraft. 3


The JSF is, at best, a 5th generation aircraft by marketing literature only. The multi-role and stealthy capabilities of the JSF have yet to be demonstrated and, rightly, are regarded by most experts as somewhat problematic at this stage.

The aviation adage of ‘fly before you buy’ has its origins in the common sense standard of caveat emptor.  Would any of you reading this “On the Record” statement purchase or commit to purchase an car without at least test driving it?

At the time of the decision to join the SDD Phase of the JSF Program, the analysis and evaluation phases of the AIR6000 Project had not yet been funded, let alone started.  Funding approval for this work under Stage III of Phase 1 of the then AIR6000 Project  - the Analysis and Evaluation Stage - was to be sought in September 2001.

As to what has since then, has any evidence in the form of hard data and facts or formal reports emerged to support the notion that any rigorous and objective analysis of the type required by the Defence Capability Development System that existed at the time of ‘the decision’ has been done on “the full range of contender aircraft …. to replace the air combat capability provided by the F-111 and F/A-18 aircraft”?

For a minimal outlay of only around 0.3% of the JSF’s development budget, benefits from joining the Program included:

  • The opportunity to participate in a developmental program largely funded by the US Government;
  • Privileged access to JSF Program information;
  • The opportunity for very detailed technical risk analysis by Defence of all JSF systems years before any contractual commitment;
  • Constant engagement with the JSF Program Office on JSF cost analysis.
    Unprecedented ability for early development of our concept of operations and tactics;
  • Enhanced opportunities for interoperability and commonality to support future coalition operations;
  • Delivery of the required air combat capability ahead of non-Partner customers.
    The unprecedented opportunity for Australia to participate in, and influence, the design and capability of an advanced fighter aircraft;
  • The opportunity to take part in the JSF test program (the most comprehensive flight test program ever);
  • Australia is already involved in defining what will be included in the first upgrades to the aircraft after the current development phase is complete; and
  • The opportunity for Australian industry to be part of the global supply chain of the world’s largest defence project.


The language used in this statement typifies the flowery marketing language that has been the hallmark of the AIR6000, now New Air Combat Capability (NACC) Project, since the announcement of the Government ‘decision’ to join the JSF Program.

However, APA has never criticised this ‘decision’ for the reasons that were given at the time; namely, for Defence to become a smarter customer to enable better risk management and informed decision making while providing Australian Industry access to the world’s largest defence project. The aircraft's unsuitability for Australia's strategic environment is an issue in its own right.

APA and many of its colleagues in Defence and Industry see great risks in the JSF Program which, if appropriately managed collectively, could be turned into greater opportunities for Australian Industry, Defence and the JSF Program itself.

Given the multi talented, integrated skills base; expertise in innovative thinking; and, particular assets able to Test and Evaluation, that are resident, if not uniquely, in our Nation, Australians could be helping their American counterparts retire risks on the JSF Program.  This would be complementary to and further expand opportunities in the already hard won, less developmentally risky though very important manufacturing and process design work already being done by members of Australian Industry.

What APA and its colleagues in Industry and Defence are disappointed with is the lack of foresight, paucity of appropriate risk management and proper due diligence, and unwillingness to engage in open, critical debate on the part of the New Air Combat Capability Project Office and Defence as a whole, while actively trying to suppress independent thought as well as innovative and countervailing views in Defence and Industry.  These forms of behaviour and their underlying attitude are a recipe for disaster.

“Fly before you buy”, as the Dutch and British plan to do, should be the fundamental tenet of the NACC Project with well considered and developed contingency strategies and risk treatment plans in place in relation to the capability, cost, schedule, project risk and Industry issues associated with the project.


Scoring Totals:

Error of Fact - Instances found:

Non Sequitur - Instances found:

Spin - Instances found:

The Scoring System:

  1. EF - Error of Fact - A statement or claim which cannot be supported by any credible evidence. A belief which is simply erroneous.
  2. NS - Non Sequitur - a statement or claim which does not follow from a preceding statement or claim. A logical fallacy where the reader is encouraged to accept that an idea is true on the basis of a preceding statement which does not support that idea.
  3. SP - Spin - A statement or claim which is intended to alter the manner in which a reader judges or assesses an idea, so that its unwanted aspects can be ignored, considered unimportant, or considered favourably.

F-22A Raptor performs the first drop of a GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb.

Further Observations, Notes and Supporting Data:

Defence 2000 White Paper Observations

The Defence 2000 White Paper was the most widely consulted Defence strategic policy documents in Australia’s history.  The Government sought and received input from Industry, Academia and, most importantly, the broader community of Australia. A consultation team of elder statesmen travelled across Australia to canvass the views of the Australian peoples for inclusion in the process that produced the Defence 2000 White Paper.  The time and costs were huge but the result was one of the best and most comprehensive strategic policy guidance documents in Australia’s history.

On Australia’s Air Combat Capability, the White Paper  states:

Para 8.37 - Air combat is the most important single capability for the defence of Australia, because control of the air over our territory and maritime approaches is critical to all other types of operation in the defence of Australia.

Para 8.39 - The Government believes that Australia must have the ability to protect itself from air attack, and control our air approaches …. The Government’s aim is to maintain the aircombat capability …… with a sufficient margin of superiority to provide an acceptable likelihood of success in combat. …

Para 8.44 - The Government’s current plans involve four major steps to address these challenges.

Para 8.45 - First, we plan to continue the upgrade program for the F/A-18 aircraft. …. This programme of upgrades is planned to be completed by 2007 and includes:

Para 8.46 - Second, we will proceed now to acquire four Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft, with the possibility of acquiring a further three aircraft later in the decade. … The aircraft are planned to start entering service around 2006.

Para 8.47 - Third, we have scheduled a major project to replace and upgrade our AAR capability. …. These aircraft … are planned to enter service around 2006.

Para 8.48 - Fourth, the Government will examine options for acquiring new combat aircraft to follow the F/A-18, and potentially also the F-111. …. Acquisition is planned to start in 2006-07, with the first aircraft entering service in 2012. … Much work remains to be done over the next few years to define and refine our requirements, and to establish the optimum balance between capability and numbers. That time will also allow better evaluation of a number of competing aircraft types.

On Strike Capabilities, the Defence 2000 White Paper states:

Para 8.73 - The Defence Capability Plan has considered three key issues in relation to the future of our F-111 strike capability.

8.74 - First, the capacity of the F-111s to overcome improving air defences has been enhanced recently … But over the coming decade further improvements will be required in both areas. The  Government has therefore decided to undertake further EWSP upgrades and acquire additional types of stand-off weapons with longer range, and with different guidance and targeting systems to provide more alternative attack options and better capability against hardened and area targets. These projects are planned to start around 2004. The first enhancements from this program are expected to enter service around 2008-09.

8.75 - Second, the Government ‘s decisions to acquire AEW&C aircraft and enhance our AAR capability … will also substantially contribute to our strike capability. For the first time we will be able to refuel our F-111s in the air, which will increase their range, payload and tactical options.

Para 8.76 - Third, the Government has considered the future of our strike capability after the F-111 leaves service, expected to be between 2015 and 2020. It is unlikely that there will be any comparable specialised strike aircraft suited to our needs available at that time. … The Government does not believe it is appropriate to attempt to resolve the future of our strike capability any time soon. However for planning purposes it has made provision for … up to 25 aircraft of the same type as the follow-on for the F/A-18 ….

Have the senior Defence bureaucrats and the Government, itself, followed the Defence 2000 White Paper?  Judge for yourselves.

Asking for the F-22A Raptor

Neither the Government nor Defence have formally asked for access to or received data and information on the F-22A technology, or formally discussed the F-22A Raptor with their US counterparts, let alone asked whether Australia can have the aircraft capability itself. 

And why is this?  Because they don’t want to; even though, under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) rules they could do so while still adhering to both the words and intent of the Obey Amendment of 1996 to the US DoD Defense Budget Appropriations Bill.

Dr Gumley—I stress: we have not had that discussion.

Air Marshal Shepherd—I will pass to Commodore Harvey but I stress again: it is still US legislation that this aircraft not be released, so we are unable to engage with the US — not that we want to. We believe the JSF meets our requirements more than the F22, so our estimations are exactly that.

                                                 Extract from Page 50, Hansard, JSCFADT Inquiry, 31 March 2006.

Extract from Addendum to RAAF F-111 Support Study dated 12 Sep 96:

Potential Engineering Consequences

1.22       The RAAF has traditionally relied on the USAF for the F-111 engineering support however, this reliance has reduced [Editor: significantly] with the development of the F-111 Design Support Network (DSN) as recommended in ‘Blueprint 2020’ [Editor: a comprehensice study into RAAF Engineering Capabilities and Standards done in 1991, in anticipation of the impending downsizing of the RAAF technical manpower workforce].  With further development of alternative engineering support services, the RAAF will be capable of supporting the F-111 aircraft through to 2020.  The F-111 structural integrity manager (ASI-LC) has identified that a nominal structural life of type for the F-111 has been established as 10 000 airframe hours [Editor: after 34 years, the fleet average flight time a.k.a. “age” is around 65% of the original design life] based primarily on the original fatigue test data.  Based on current flying rates and fleet mix, ASI-LC analysis indicates that there should be sufficient structural life in the aircraft to support a PWD of 2020.

1.23       In all probability, the RAAF must expect to see structural problems arise over the next 20 years, which will need substantial Research and Development (R&D) effort to address.  However, it is impossible to quantiry with any degree of accuracy what this may cost.  Following the USAF phase-out, the RAAF will be the sole F-111 operator and as such, can no longer rely on another operator to identify a problem either before, or coincidentally with the RAAF [Editor: historically, the RAAF were more often than not ahead of the USAF in the recognition and rectification of any problems on the aircraft, such problems being a standard part of operating aircraft of the capability and sophistication of the F-111], and hence share the R&D workload and overheads associated with the development, installation and qualification of a repair solution.  Consequently, the F-111SST [Editor: Support Study Team of F-111 domain experts] has proposed that a 4% compound contingency for aging aircraft (based on QANTAS and Boeing precendents) be programmed as a worst case scenario.  Subsequent to the F-111SST presentation on 1 August 1996, DCAS [Editor: Deputy Chief of Air Force] and AOC-LC [Editor: Air Officer Commanding – Logistics Command] have agreed to the programming of $0.400m per annum to support DSTO research into the F-111 aging aircraft issue.
Early 2001 Meeting with USDM (when Acting Secretary of Defence)

The meeting was called in response to the USDM’s stated intent to dispense with the Project Boards, the result of over two years work in introducing the PRINCE2 Project Management System, and replacing them with what he called ‘Governance Boards’.

At this meeting, the USDM expressed his concerns about the advice coming from Capability Staff (CS) and made known his desire for DMO staff to work up their own studies on capabilities and come up with ‘other solutions’, independent of CS input, so that the USDM and the Secretary had alternate options to consider.

The USDM also stated at this meeting that he believed Defence should:
  1. Not spend anymore money on upgrading the Hornets and the F-111s;
  2. Plan to retire both these fleets as soon as possible; and,
  3. Pursue the Joint Strike Fighter as the replacement for both aircraft at the earliest possible date.

Editor’s Note: 

Since the 1980’s, standard aviation practice amongst knowledgable aircraft operators has been to introduce what is commonly called an ‘Aging Aircraft Program’ on their aircraft, including to new aircraft types entering service in their fleets.  Such a program, properly executed, is not only prudent risk management and the professional way to operate and maintain aircraft but provides the right data and information to the operator to enable determination of the most economic way to ensure maximum utilisation of their aircraft assets, in the most cost effective way.  Such programs have enabled the USAF to, inter alia, extend the service lives of their B-52 and B-1 bombers out to beyond 2030. 

The F-111 is, presently, the only aircraft in the Australian Department of Defence inventory that is following an appropriately constructed, approved and, at least up to March this year,  properly resourced ‘Aging Aircraft Program’.

All indications are that the ‘F-111 Aging Aircraft Program’ and ‘Sole Operator Program’ are in decline, with people from these programs in the DSTO, RAAF and Industry being moved elsewhere or leaving since the Defence Minister, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, announced he had convinced the Cabinet of the Government to acquire the Super Hornet.  If this proves to be the case, opponents of F-111 capability retention, past and present, from within the ranks of the Department of Defence and Government will be smiling, as will be the foreign vendor personnel who have worked so hard to make this happen.

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